How do you reconcile a system where the law is designed to restrain government power over citizens with one where it does the opposite? People in Hong Kong and elsewhere who are worried about Mainland extradition suspect that you can’t. Moderates keen not to upset Beijing resort to desperate suggestions – can they interest the Chinese Communist Party in calling Hongkongers and Taiwanese for jury duty, to put minds at ease?
Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing zombies, meanwhile, just follow orders. There is a story going around that Chief Executive Carrie Lam thought up the extradition initiative all by herself, and Chinese officials have since started to lend support to maintain her (ahem) credibility. Although this is a semi-official line, some pan-dem types seem to like it – perhaps because it damages her personally.
But can you seriously imagine Carrie can’t-buy-toilet-paper Lam having an original idea? Her boldest initiatives are to ‘consider setting up a committee to examine the possibility’ of something. And you can always tell when Beijing issues instructions, because the government does something (hence frenzied activity over national anthem, localism, oath-taking, Financial Times editors and similar duties versus total inertia on housing, hospitals, schools, traffic, air, etc).
More to the point, the extradition proposal involves cross-border issues and Taiwan. There is no way the Hong Kong administration can produce policy on these without Beijing’s authority and guidance.
To Beijing, extradition is a matter of principle concerning ‘sovereignty’ – meaning the right of the CCP to operate above the law on all Chinese territory. This is why the proposed rendition process must limit Hong Kong courts’ role to checking paperwork. The system cannot allow Hong Kong judges to question the integrity of the Mainland legal system. It’s not just that China would lose face: it would put Hong Kong courts into a position where they act as a rival source of power to the CCP, which undermines the whole Leninist order.
This comes at a time when China-Western relations are unravelling in ways that potentially expose all sorts of individuals. The US is clamping down on Mainland academic ties. Beijing is contriving a list of ‘unreliable foreign entities’ – a silly replication of US business-security measures – and apparently pressuring Western companies into going against their own governments.
Maybe the CCP does not intend to immediately transfer hundreds of local dissidents up north to kangaroo courts – though it would probably like to grab some rogue Mainland business and political elites holed up here. But we can be sure that Beijing’s paranoids want the comfort of knowing that they can extend their rule by fear (of abduction, of televised confessions) onto this side of the border. Some people, mindful of how these thugs can work, really will leave or avoid Hong Kong. With good reason.
(An update: Q&A from Progressive Lawyers’ Group. And an interesting thread: “…short version of the extradition bill in Hong Kong: if you’ve pissed off China for any conceivable reason, don’t go to Hong Kong again”.)